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Kawhi and Clippers outduel hobbled Doncic and Mavericks for Game 3 win

If the arm-waving is coordinated properly, the fans whose virtual images fill the 17-foot-tall LED screens ringing the courts at Disney World’s Wide World of Sports complex can create some level of distraction for opponents shooting free throws.

But when Montrezl Harrell stepped to the line midway through Friday night’s fourth quarter, the backdrop’s digital seats were mostly empty.

It was difficult to blame fans for the Mavericks “home” game for appearing to abandon hope as Game 3 of this first-round postseason series neared its end.

Two minutes earlier, Dallas star Luka Doncic had left the game for good after gamely giving his injured left ankle a try before ultimately returning to the sideline. As he limped off, a phalanx of medical trainers awaited.

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With Doncic watching while his left leg remained elevated on a folding chair, Dallas didn’t lay down, forcing the Clippers’ own superstar, Kawhi Leonard, to take control in the final minutes of a 130-122 victory. His soaring dunk with 5:22 remaining added to his team’s double-digit cushion and helped him finish with 36 points, nine rebounds and eight assists on a night when his star teammate, Paul George, continued his shooting struggles.

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Highlights from the Clippers’ 130-122 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 3 on Friday.

Leonard has 100 points thus far in the postseason, the most scored by a Clipper through three playoff games.

“I said it before, I’ll say it again, he’s one of the most if not the most reliable guy,” said George, who made three of his 16 shots for 11 points. “He’s a leader, he stepped up, he’s been a leader all season long. He picked me up tonight, as did everybody else, and put this game on his back and won the game for us.”

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And yet the game — and potentially the series, which the Clippers now lead 2-1 — tipped toward Los Angeles the moment Doncic came up limping with four minutes remaining in the third quarter while defending a drive by Leonard.

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle was unsure of the injury’s severity but Doncic termed it “not that bad.” He added that he felt lucky that it wasn’t the right ankle he has injured twice this season.

Doncic finished with 13 points, with 10 rebounds and 10 assists and had begun the game in a fiery mood. In the first half, his elbow to the back of Harrell led the backup center sprawling to the court before they got in each other’s face. Teammates intervened and each assessed a technical foul.

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The brash beginning rubbed off on his teammates. Minutes later, Kristaps Porzingis stood inches from the face of Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. after receiving a perceived slight.

It was the kind of fight that the Clippers had been unable to overcome in Game 2.

But from the start Friday, the Clippers made keen adjustments that kept them a step ahead.

By removing inconsistent guard Reggie Jackson from the starting line in favor of second-year guard Landry Shamet, the Clippers’ backcourt gained a more willing distributor and savvier defender.

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The opportunity seemed to flip a switch for Shamet, who’d shot just 30% during the seeding games while recovering from his bout with the coronavirus. He finished with 18 points, including a dunk over 7-foot-4 Boban Marjanovic in the second quarter that led Clippers teammates to nearly spill onto the court in celebration.

“Landry was fantastic,” coach Doc Rivers said. “He knows our guys better. He probably knows our system better and he’s going to play off of Kawhi and PG and let the game come to him.”

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The Clippers also took away a mismatch by ensuring center Ivica Zubac was on the floor whenever Marjanovic was, removing the height advantage the backup Mavericks center had over the 6-foot-7 Harrell. Zubac also anchored a defense that was far more focused than in Game 2.

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The shot-altering threat of his wingspan near the rim dulled the threat of several early Doncic drives and helped the Clippers build a lead that swelled to 18.

“I thought the first three quarters we were locked in defensively,” Rivers said.

Doncic winced in the fourth quarter while playing through the injury and attempting, in vain, to spark a Dallas comeback. Reducing that pain won’t be easy. Because of Sunday’s early tipoff for Game 4, Doncic has less than 40 hours to recover. He will undergo an MRI Saturday.

“Obviously, Luka being out wasn’t good for us,” said Porzingis, who scored a team-high 34 points. “We need him. Hopefully he’ll be ready for Game 4.”

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Three takeaways

  • Seven Clippers scored in double figures, the first time the franchise accomplished that in the playoffs since April 21, 2014.
  • The Clippers scored 45 points in the second quarter, the most scored in a single quarter in franchise playoff history.
  • After allowing only eight transition points per game during the seeding round, the Clippers allowed the Mavericks eight by midway through the second quarter. They finished with 12 fast-break points.

Greif reported from Los Angeles.


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